Philippines won’t give up Ayungin shoal—DFA
MANILA, Philippines—The grounded BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal will not be moved despite China’s expulsion of Filipino ships attempting to reach it as the Philippines asserts its claim over the reef in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“The BRP Sierra Madre, a commissioned Philippine Naval Vessel, was placed in Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as a permanent Philippine government installation,” Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a statement Friday.
This was in response to the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang’s statement Thursday that the Philippines had previously agreed to remove the World War II-era ship which was grounded on Ayungin Shoal, Ren’ai Reef to China, back in 1999.
“China made representations right away to the Philippine side who then made unequivocal commitment to towing away the ship,” Qin said.
“However, the Philippines is yet to live up to its promise and haul away the rusty ship,” he said.
Sierra Madre serves as an outpost for a small detachment of marines stationed on Ayungin to defend the shoal and the Philippine territorial claim.
It was grounded there “in response to China’s illegal occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995. This was prior to the signing of the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002,” Hernandez said.
“The Philippines reiterates that Ayungin Shoal is part of its continental shelf over which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” he said.
Ayungin is around 105 nautical miles from the coast of Palawan putting it within the Philippines 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone mandated under international law.
Last March 9, two Filipino civilian vessels were contracted by the Philippine Navy to conduct troop rotation and resupply operation on Ayungin but were trailed, blocked, and then expelled by the Chinese Coast Guard.
China claimed the vessels were carrying construction materials that were going to be used to build permanent structures on Ayungin.
“The behavior of the Philippine side has infringed upon China’s rights and interests and violated the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” Qin said.
“It is an out-and-out provocation. China has every reason to send away the two Philippine ships,” he said.
This expulsion incident marks the second time the coast guard of China drove away Filipinos from maritime features within the Philippines 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
Last January 27, the Chinese Coast Guard used water cannons to drive away Filipino fishermen from Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Panatag shoal or Scarborough shoal, that lies 118 nautical miles from the coast of Zambales province.
The Philippines filed separate protests over the water cannon incident and the expulsion incident but China has rejected both.
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